The purpose of this post is one and only one: to go beyond treating Holi as yet another national holiday. And this we cannot achieve until we truly make sense out of history of Holi. I know! It shall not be one of those monotonous posts on Holi festival information as I shall keep the Holi story short and sweet and would jump to what I mean by going beyond the History of Holi.
How is Holi celebrated?
Holi is an ancient Indian festival that is celebrated in the month of Phalgun (end February-mid March) and differs in name and rituals across India. Few other names for Holi are Dhuleti (Gujrat), Lath Mar Holi (Uttar Pradesh), Kumaonii Holi (Uttarakhand), etc. The names differ and the ways of playing it, however at the end of day, it is a festival of colors and this is how Holi is celebrated:
Days before Holi, people start gathering wooden sticks for the Holika Dahan (bonfire). An effigy of Holika is kept in the wood and burnt. The next day is the play of colors where people with full enthusiasm colour one another keeping aside all their differences and biases. People eat Ghujiya (a delicacy) and drink Bhaang to add to their merrymaking on this festival.
The history of Holi celebrations can be dated back to references in ancient puranas (Narada Purana, Bhavishya Purana), inscriptions (Ratnavali), sculptures (Hampi Temple), paintings and murals. However just because it can be traced back does not mean it should be taken forward?
The Holi Story
There are legends of Hiranyakashipu, Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva and Kamdev, Ogress Dhundhi and many more attached to the reasoning behind Holi celebration. But the most prominent of them all is the legend of Hiranyakashipu.
Cutting the long story short. A devil king Hiranyakashipu was blessed that he could not be killed and this he exploited to the most. Everyone in his kingdom was forced to worship him but his own son Prahlad had utmost devotion for Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu’s inflated ego made him write his own son’s murder plan. However Lord Vishnu acted as a savior for Prahlad’s dedication and turned every attempt of killing him futile. Enter Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika. She sat on a burning pyre with Prahlad in her lap. As a blessing, Holika was insured from fire. But as Lord Vishnu wished, Holika burned in that fire and Prahlad came out unharmed. Hiranyakashipu’s life insurance had loopholes and hence Lord Vishnu disguised himself in Narasimha avatar and killed Hiranyakashipu.
As per this legend, Holi thus comes from Holika (to burn) and is hence a celebration of victory of good over evil. This makes sense when people burn Holika a day before holi. But why the play of colors?
Another legend states that Ogress Pootna fed her milk to Lord Krishna due to which his complexion darkened. Lord Krishna complained his mother about his complexion being darker from gopis. To calm a complaining child, his mother advised him to play with colors with them so that everyone would appear of same color. This is how Holi is celebrated by coloring one another in gulaal.
Holi Story beyond History of Holi
Every night I read a story to my daughters from the book 365 moral stories. Each story is quite small and it gets finished in a minute or two but it is the moral of the story or the hidden meaning behind characters that makes our discussions longer.
The history of holi also has a deeper thought behind it. We can’t just celebrate it because good had victory over evil and that too centuries back. And that is the essence of Holi story! Just because Hiranyakashipu forced everyone to idolize him does not mean that everyone had to. Prahlad believed in someone else and he stuck to his devotion.
Many a times our families, friends, or society force their beliefs on us. They want us to keep following many rituals and practices in the name of tradition. Some people even change their dreams and desires in order to be a part of the herd mentality.
Holi is a reminder each year to awaken the Prahlad and kill the Hiranyakashipu in us. If we believe in our truth, our devotion, we should relentlessly strive towards it. Prahlad was Hiranyakashypu’s son but his reverence for Lord Vishnu surpassed his blood relation. He was convinced of being on the right path. Amidst all the hardships, even against his father, he continued.
Also, just because we are at a position of power or advantage like Hiranyakashipu does not mean that it gives us a right to force ourselves or our thinking on others. Bringing out the Prahlad in us is quite easy but killing the Hiranyakashipu is tough. It is easy to say we are right but difficult to accept we are wrong.
May be play of colors is also not about just putting colors on others. Maybe it’s about seeing everyone in same color, seeing everyone through same eyes. When people are biased, they see the differences of gender, caste, religion, status etc. Holi is a reminder that when everyone is pink or blue or green, there are no differences. We do not know at that time who is rich or who is poor? Who is Hindu or who is Muslim? Holi is not about coloring others. It is about seeing everyone in same color like yourself.
Holi also marks the arrival of spring, for many it is the beginning for new year. Hence another reason to celebrate Holi is to get in touch if our farmers have had the good harvest. Also new year motivates one to forget and forgive what has happened in the past year and start afresh. Holi is a reminder to mend relations or careers and take on a fresh start in life.
If every year I share this history of Holi with my daughter, I am sure the festival shall mean much more to her than a national holiday. Holi is a festival of colors. It is a festival of adopting virtues like truth, devotion, and forgiveness in our lives. It is a festival to strengthen brotherhood and bonhomie among people. It is not the Holi story but its essence that truly tell us how is Holi celebrated?
What is your Holi story? Do share with me in comments below. It shall be great to hear another perspective. Also read The Woman Next Door’s perspective on another festival Karwachauth and share your views.